Lessons Learned from 50 Marketing Agency CEOs


Over the last 2 years, I have had the good fortune to interview a total of 50 agency CEOs on my podcast.  Until I actually counted them all today, I had no idea that it had been that many.

Think of it this way: I have had an insider’s look at how 50 different CEOs are growing their companies. That is a lot of valuable advice.

In fact, the reason I am the owner of Groove Digital Marketing today is due largely to the all the insights that these wonderful folks shared with me. Suffice to say, I’m grateful to each and every one of my guests for being so open with me during their interviews.

In today’s post, I wanted to summarize some of the very best ideas that have been shared with me over the last two years. My hope is that you’ll come away with some “Bright Ideas” that you can put to use in your own business.

Pick a Niche Market

In her interview, Rebecca Geier of Trew Marketing shared with me that one of the smartest things they did was to pick a very specific niche, and focus on only working with clients that fit that niche.

Trew only works with companies that are deeply technical in nature (mostly engineers and scientists) and as a result of this decision, their revenue growth has been impressive. Their net profit margin is even more impressive.

(Her interview will be published on Sept 15th, 2014.)


So if picking a niche is so important, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Good question. I suspect it’s because people are afraid they will “miss out” on all the other companies that might not want to work with them if they make it clear that they are focused on only one niche.

Want more info on how to pick a niche? I have already published a detailed post on how to do it.

Create a Culture

zak dabbasDo you think that dedicating time and energy towards creating a company culture is worthwhile? Zak Dabbas of Punchkick Interactive sure does. In his interview, Zak shared with me how he’s grown his agency from just $371,000 in revenue in 2009 to $8M today; and, according to Zak, the company culture they have created has played a huge role in their success (so has niche selection!).

Want to hear all the details of this incredible success story? Listen to the interview.


Run a Virtual Company

FRACHEL COGARRachel Cogar is the CEO of Puma Creative, a 7-figure boutique inbound marketing agency and an evangelist for inbound marketing methodology. In addition to running her business, Rachel juggles Mom duties with three children, including (at the time of our interview) a 6-week-old newborn.

Puma Creative is a 100% virtual agency with a team of 13 people all around the world. They focus on small to mid-size businesses around the world that believe in the power of inbound marketing. Their clients are all on retainers of $4,000 – $10,000 per month.

While I was in Boston at HubSpot’s head office, I had the chance to meet Rachel in person, and she is a fireball! Stuffed into a tiny little frame is a monstrous amount of talent and ambition.

Thanks to her keeping her company virtual, Rachel has succeeded in creating an incredibly profitable agency that sells only by retainer. In her interview, she gives all the details on how she did it. Having masterminded with Rachel a number of times, I can assure you that her ideas are well worth listening to.

Build a Team

Drew McLellanOne of the things that I consistently see in the more successful agencies that I interview is their focus on building a team of talented people and then creating systems and process for the team to rely on.

The agency owners who are “stuck” running small companies, invariably are trying to “do it all” themselves. You can either have total control, or you can have growth. Take your pick.

With solid systems, you can have plenty of growth, without totally sacrificing control.

Without systems and processes, you are going to have a much harder time growing your business because you are going to become the bottleneck to growth.

When you adopt the mindset explained in the eMyth and Built to Sell, and focus on working “on” your business instead of “in” it, all sorts of incredible things start to happen.

To learn more about this, I interviewed Drew McLellan, founder of The Agency Management Institute. Drew has been running his own agency for 20 years and founded AMI to help other agencies succeed.

Create Content

BILL FAETH FCOver at Groove, I thought we’d done a pretty good job at creating content (96 blog posts since March 2014) and growing our traffic, and by most barometers, we have.

And then I interviewed Bill Faeth of Inbound Marketing Agents.

Within just two years, he’s grown his traffic to 40,000 visitors a month! Aside from creating a LOT of content, the key to Bill’s success has been to syndicate his content to high traffic sites that already have the audience he wants to attract. If you’d like to hear how he does it, just listen to his interview.

Leverage LinkedIn for Outreach

Tony WrightCold calling may be dead, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore outreach all together. In fact, at our agency, we have a comprehensive prospecting system that is supported by the content we create.

LinkedIn definitely plays a role in our system, and I learned a great deal about how to best use LinkedIn from Tony Wright, CEO of WrightIMC, an integrated marketing agency on track to earn just over $3M in 2014.

In his interview, Tony shared with me quite a number of things, including his 4-step strategy for SEO, how speaking gigs help land clients, and why he spends two hours a day on LinkedIn.

Focus on Inbound Marketing

Max TraylorAt Groove, we are very focused on offering only one service: Inbound Marketing.

Why? Simple, all the most successful agencies that I have interviewed focus on Inbound – and they are all doing very well, thank you.

For example, Max Traylor has built a very successful inbound marketing agency. IMR focuses exclusively on content marketing and only takes clients on retainer.

In his interview, he shared with me how they built their agency, the type of customers they have, how they sell their services, and the essential role of content strategy in the overall process.

What is Your Goal?

The most successful entrepreneurs are people that have clearly defined goals and a plan to attain them.

In my case, my current goals for Groove are simple: get to $20K a month in retainer income and play no part in the day-to-day work needed to maintain that level of revenue. If you want to see how I’m doing, check out my Groove status updates.

To achieve my goal, I will need to create systems that will support growth, and then build a team to do the day to day work. When I achieve this goal, I will set a new one.

So far, I have managed to “fire myself” from the following jobs:

  • Content creation
  • Blog management
  • Social media management
  • Account management

The only day to day jobs that I’m still responsible for are:

  • Selling
  • Content strategy

In time, I plan to fire myself from these two jobs as well.

There is another trait shared by all successful entrepreneurs: they surround themselves with peers that are at least as successful as they are.

Some people do this informally. Many (self included) do it via a mastermind group.

The thing that I like about a mastermind group is that, assuming they are run by a competent facilitator, they create a structure for idea sharing, networking, and accountability.

The fact that each of the members has to invest money, in addition to their time, ensures that each member is going to be totally committed to the process.

The Bright Ideas Mastermind

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably already know that I run a mastermind group for marketing agency CEOs.

What you may not know is that I’ve just made a big change to the criteria for applicants. Now, to be eligible, your agency must be doing at least $1M in annual revenue.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the benefits of joining the mastermind.

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